It’s the payoff for all your hard work—a news reporter has discovered your company’s fantastic new product or service. She wants to learn more about you. You’re torn between feelings of thrill and terror. Done right, mass media coverage can boost your credibility, increase awareness and lead to a spike in leads or sales. Done wrong, you may miss the chance to communicate the benefits of your product or service and fritter away your 15 minutes of fame.
Being questioned by a reporter is challenging for the inexperienced and unprepared. When I was a news reporter for WXRT and WBEZ in Chicago, I conducted hundreds of interviews every year for 15 years. I could easily discern the skilled interviewee from the newbie. For the skilled, the interview is a tango – a dance full of bold yet graceful moves, with accents on the appropriate twists and turns. For the unskilled, an interview is like sitting through dental work without painkillers.
The key to mastering any interview is being in control and doing the advance work that inspires confidence. So park your jitters and skepticism at the door. This is the first in a series of tips on preparing for and controlling a media interview.
“Control” doesn’t mean manipulate. It means crafting a compelling message for your target audience and using the tactics and discipline needed to make sure the reporter understands and repeats that message in the story.
Just as the first step in the sales process is to understand the customer’s needs, the first step in the interview process is to know what the reporter needs and to whom he/she is communicating. Even before scheduling your interview, find out details so you understand what the reporter is looking for. Learn about their beat, media outlet and its audience. As you coordinate scheduling, don’t hesitate to ask the following:
- What’s your story about?
- Do you have a specific angle in mind?
- Will you conduct the interview in person or by phone? (Many now will send questions via email, which is great because you have more time to think about your answers, and you have a written record if you’re misquoted.)
- Who else have you talked to?
- How did you hear about me/my company/product?
- What is your deadline?
- When will you run this story?
I advise clients not to ask to review or approve the story before it runs. Allowing a source to edit his/her own story is viewed as an attempt to control coverage. Reporters may follow up with you to check their facts. But no respectable media outlet would allow you to edit (or in their view, censor) a reporter’s work.
After getting answers to those questions, do some simple research to learn a little bit about the reporter. A Google search will reveal the latest stories written by that person, as well as their interests, beats, and tone of their writing. Often news organizations will provide a reporter’s bio in the “Contact” or “Staff” directory of the outlet’s web site.
If none is available, keep digging. With so many media people on Facebook, Twitter and other popular social networks, you’re likely to find helpful information about a reporter’s background, personality and approach to his interview subjects.
Next tip: Preparing for the interview.
Post happily written by Michelle Damico